US STD cases spiked during the pandemic

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2022 (HealthDay News) – Even when the COVID-19 pandemic kept people isolated at home, cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) increased in the United States.

Although cases fell in the early months of the pandemic, infections have increased again by the end of 2020, with gonorrhea, syphilis and congenital syphilis exceeding 2019 levels, according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease Control and Prevention.

“STDs have now been on the rise for maybe seven years in a row,” said Drs. Leandro Mena, Director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention.

“These increases are rooted in a reduction in funding for public health, which has affected the ability of health departments to provide screening, treatment, prevention and partner services,” he added.

Increased substance use, which is linked to social practices and socio-economic conditions that make it difficult to access services, also plays a role, Mena said.

The new STD Surveillance Report of 2020, released on April 12, found that at the end of 2020:

  • Cases of gonorrhea and primary and secondary syphilis rose 10% and 7% respectively compared to 2019.
  • Newborn syphilis, called congenital syphilis, also increased by almost 15% from 2019, and 235% from 2016. Primary and secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis cases continued to increase in 2021.
  • Cases of chlamydia dropped by 13% from 2019.

Chlamydia is good for most reported STDs. Researchers suspect that the reported decline in cases is due to reduced STD screening and underdiagnosis during the pandemic, and not a real reduction in new infections. The decline in reported chlamydia cases contributed to a decrease in the number of reported STDs in 2020 – from 2.5 million cases in 2019 to 2.4 million in 2020.

The researchers cited several factors that contributed to the decline in STD cases in the first part of 2020, including:

  • Less screening.
  • Public health workers sat on the sidelines working on COVID-19.
  • Lack of STD tests and laboratory supplies.
  • Decline in health insurance caused by unemployment.
  • An increase in telemedicine that resulted in less frequent screening and left some infections unreported.

The highest rates of new STIs were seen among gay and bisexual men and teens, the CDC reported.

“About 50% of all STDs are reported among people younger than 24 years old,” Mena said.

Combating the rising STD rate will take efforts from various groups, including local health departments, he said.

“Community-based organizations are uniquely positioned to respond to emerging STD trends and can play a critical role in empowering individuals to prioritize their sexual health,” Mena said. “Health care providers can play a role in removing stigma, by integrating STD prevention and social health into routine practices and creating hospitable environments for all people.”

The most important step people can take, Mena said, is to get tested for STDs annually, especially if you are a sexually active teenager or engaging in risky sex with multiple partners.

Dr. David Rosenthal, medical director of the Center for Young Adult, Adolescent and Pediatric HIV at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Great Neck, NY, said his practice is familiar with the rise in STD infections.

“Without a doubt, we are seeing a clinical increase in all of them,” he said. “If we ever got through 2020 or mid-2021, that’s when we started seeing clinically, at least in my experience.”

More people are coming in for STD testing, Rosenthal said.

“It is important that we continue to do what we can to proactively identify new STDs and ensure that we can identify them before they spread to other individuals and also to ensure that we can prevent STIs whenever possible, and HIV transmission can occur, “he said.

The best way to prevent STDs is through barrier methods – condoms as well as female condoms work best, Rosenthal said.

“The second piece is that we really need to routineize the testing of individuals, especially adolescents, to make sure we screen for STDs,” he said.

More information

To learn more about sexually transmitted infections, visit the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Leandro Mena, MD, MPH, Director, Division of STD Prevention, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; David Rosenthal, DO, PhD, Medical Director, Center for Young Adult, Adolescent and Pediatric HIV, Cohen Children’s Medical Center, Great Neck, NY; CDC report: Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Surveillance, 2020April 12, 2022

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